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State of East German Affairs after German Reunification

A Revival would be the Only Alternative"

 

Most East German believers were both wailing and laughing on October 3, the day of German reunification.  Expressions of gratefulness for God's mercy were profuse, yet dampened by the sacrifices which reunification will demand. One such offering involves home-grown church institutions and offices, many of which are being superseded by all-German ones located in Western Germany.  Both the Methodist and the Baptist seminary in the former GDR will be closed next year; all churches and major para-church organizations, such as the Evangelical Alliance, should be reunified by 1992.

 

The lack of coordination and consultation has caused hard feelings on both sides.  East Berlin's Johannes Schmidt, President of the Federation of Free Evangelical Churches, claims that West German publishing houses "unloaded their book and pamphlet surpluses in the GDR," thereby destroying a publishing network "created under trying socialist conditions."  Recently, a prominent youth evangelist was surprised to discover a ton of literature dumped at his front door by a West German publishing house.  The evangelist readily concluded that the materials were unusable for local readers.

 

Despite unusual spectacles such as East German army support for a Baptist youth retreat in Dresden last May, few East Germans are reporting a revival.  Evangelist Theo Lehmann concludes that churches are now just as empty as before the political upheaval.  Though all legal doors have been opened, ears are apparently less open than before.  A pinch on the pocketbook has achieved what communism frequently didn't:  The announcement that church taxes collected by the state will be instituted in January has lead to an exodus from the Lutheran and Catholic churches.  German media have reported with relish on the lines of citizens waiting outside local government offices to have their requests for removal from church rolls processed.

 

The historic state churches are financially notoriously overextended: The Dresden Lutheran Hans-Dieter Hofmann succinctly points out that "a revival would be the only alternative to [state-collected, West German-style] church taxes."

 

Numerically, charismatics appear to be faring best; a conference in East Berlin last July attracted 3,200.  Yet their tendency to gather recruits from existing churches and to form new, independent congregations does little to foster revival within the historic denominations.

 

The demand of Protestant and Catholic conservatives, that reunification not be achieved at the expense of the unborn, has not met with initial success.  Only after conceding that East German abortions laws -- they allow no-questions-asked abortions until the third month of pregnancy -- would remain in effect during an interim period did the Statute on Unification pass the East German "Volkskammer".  An anti-abortion league concluded thereafter that the unification statute had been "purchased with blood."  It is claimed that Eastern Germany experiences as many abortions as births; activists therefore are asking that the annual Day of Repentance and Prayer on November 21 be utilized to highlight the abortion issue.  KALEB, an East German pro-life lobby, concludes despondently that Germans are now witnessing a most dubious form of unity:  Western pornography is unifying itself with the East's generous abortion policies.

 

German churches are experiencing a bitter internal political struggle regarding the appropriate response to the recent communist past.  Conservatives conclude that the masses have long
forsaken all socialist ideals; they fail to comprehend the  continued appeal of such thought among the church intelligentsia.  Typical is the polemic of West Berlin's "Evangelische Sammlung":  "Socialists of all nations -- come hibernate within German Protestantism.  Here you will be able to regenerate yourselves."

 

An outstanding issue very much a part of the present political struggle is military chaplainship.  Instituted by West Germany's "Bundeswehr" in 1957, it was long regarded as quiet proof of West
German Lutheranism's willingness to ally itself with Western power structures at the expense of the East German church.  While "Idea", the Evangelical Alliance's Western news agency, strongly supports the institution of military chaplaincy on an all-German basis, Heino Falcke of Erfurt, a prominent church father of last year's peaceful revolution, has threatened to leave his church if
chaplaincy is ever installed in Eastern Germany.

 

East Germans remain reluctant to institutionalize religious instruction in public schools according to the West German pattern.  The Methodists stated in June:  "In the past, we have suffered from the forced ideologisation of schools and the consequent manipulation of children on matters of Weltanschauung.  We therefore cannot continue this practice now under different auspices."  Potsdam's Wolfgang Hering suggests a compromise:  Bible stories could be taught in public schools until grade four, then, all who would like to hear more could be invited to continue their religious instruction within church walls.

 

William Yoder
Berlin, October 4, 1990

 

Article written for “Christianity Today” in Carol Stream/IL, 748 words.